It is easy to etch your own designs into metal for jewelry. This tutorial will teach you how! (Check out our etching kit too!)
Before you begin, please read the safety considerations for etching metal with chemicals blog post.
You’ll also probably want to read the design considerations for etching metal blog post too!
Now, here are the steps for etching metal with ferric chloride:
1. Choose your metal(s). Ferric chloride works on copper, brass and nickel silver. It will not work on actual silver (fine or sterling). Do NOT use ferric chloride on aluminum. Metal as thin as 24-gauge can be etched – just leave it in for less time than you would for thicker metal. If you want to etch both sides or etch really deeply, use at least 20-gauge metal.
2. Clean metal with Penny Brite (our favorite) or an abrasive cleaner and scrubbie. The metal must be very clean. Water will sheet off (not bead up) on the surface when it is truly clean.
3. Apply resist. Stazon ink, Sharpies, toner transfers – there are many options! (Read the design considerations.)
4. Cover all areas that should not be etched with ink or durable tape. This includes the back, sides and inside any holes.
5. Pour 3/4 – 1″ of etchant into a non-reactive container (glass or plastic). If you are etching more than one type of metal, use a separate container for each. If desired, add a teaspoon of citric acid to “boost” the etching action.
6. Attach metal to a styrofoam float “boat” and place in etchant. Suspending the metal into the bath with tape is another option. Just make sure the metal is submerged yet isn’t touching the bottom of the container.
7. Allow to float for 30-90 minutes, depending on depth of etch desired. Nickel silver tends to take longer than copper or brass because it contains just 65% copper. (The rest is nickel and zinc.)
8. Scrub metal clean in a tub of water that has a few tablespoons of baking soda mixed into it. Scrub all your design elements with a brass brush (or an old toothbrush) and additional baking soda, to thoroughly neutralize the acid. Some people use a weak ammonia bath to really make sure the acid is removed. Cleaning all the etchant off is important, as it will stain, and may cause small pits.
That’s it! You’ll probably want to patina the metal with liver of sulfur or another oxidizer to really bring out the definition in your design.
Ferric chloride can be reused several times. Once it is exhausted (typically after about 3 uses), consult your local waste management system for guidance on disposing of it.
Happy creating! Use the “print friendly” option to print these instructions – with or without pictures! Questions are always welcome too. ~ Cindy
Editor’s Addendum: Many people have asked “Where do you find these supplies?” So here is a linked list of sheet metal and etching supplies:
- 6×6″ copper sheet
- 6″ strips of copper sheet for etching, stamping, riveting, etc.
- Copper washers
- 6×6″ brass sheet
- 6″ strips of brass sheet for etching, stamping, riveting, etc.
- Solid brass bracelets — great for etching or otherwise embellishing
- 6×6″ nickel sheet
- 6″ strips of nickel sheet for etching, stamping, riveting, etc.
- Ferric Chloride
Roofers use 19- to 27-gauge copper sheet, but surprisingly the prices from most roofing supply places are higher than our prices. Fortunately, you can often find left-over roofing scrap at a local recycler, like Earthworks Recycling. The size of reclaimed copper scrap can be random, so bring a measuring gauge and gauge conversion chart to make sure you get the size of scrap or remnants you want, such as 20-, 22- or 24-gauge.